Dub maybe a niche concern but SubMachena give us enough to warrant a fresh look at the genre.
Robin Taylor-Firth and Rawle Bruce may be better known as Olive (See You’re Not Alone) when they topped the 90s charts and Robin’s work with Nightmares on Wax (Warp) will have electronic heads nodding sagely, however as SubMachena their producing is as concentrated as either band.
A key feature of SubMachena is that things never truly repeat, everything evolves throughout the track
Sta Luego (Spanish for See You Soon) is a collection of on par Old Skool Dub tracks that has a definite contemporary flair but remains solidly true to its Jamaican roots. Given the high level of musicianship here it feels surprising that the album is as restrained as it is.
The cornerstone to SubMachena is heavy HEAVY beats which pack a serious punch and yet at the same time stop short of breaking the Dub formula. For instance, you could mix Ten Ton Dub, Sta Luego Dub and King Day Dub easily into a set of oldies without anyone noticing that this wasn’t a rare cut but rather a new release. The task then is to isolate the signature elements that make purchasing this record a priority over revisiting the classics.
Taking the title track Sta Leugo Dub as a general example the album presents fierce rhythms interspersed with floating digital samples that while reminiscent of classic Dub are actually tonally and texturally very new. Add to this a compositional dynamism where old horns are spliced with new textures, new forms of delay, moments of cone-splintering bass, and you’ve pretty much got the whole picture.
The album starts very rootsy and gets progressively more contemporary from Lef’ Handed Shite (a ragga inflected tribute to Chic if ever I heard one) onward. On Lef’ Handed Shite, complementary rhythm and bass parts propel this funky little number along until the guitar accents come in and really lift the track into a mid tempo groove; perfect for summer drives, BBQs and nice parties.
This may sound like music making 101 but it is an important to note when cut-paste-repeat production is becoming the norm
Nachete continues in the same vein but goes a little darker; marrying distorted breaks with a highly motile bass there’s a lot here that reminds of mid-period Plaid minus the acid keys. For me the pinnacle of the album comes with Black Sun. I am not a roots purist and so have no problems with this deviation into Trip-Hop territory which admittedly owed much to Dub in the first place. The track starts with a strong wash of ambience, creating a thoughtful mood before a brooding Jah Wobble bassline builds, pushing the track insistently forward. Melodically the bass barely moves, continually pounding out this heavy air, which in itself is pretty delicious, but then slowly, as the layers build, the track settles into a solid groove and takes off.
A key feature of SubMachena is that things never truly repeat, everything evolves throughout the track and a chorus section may have the earlier familiar elements – but they’ll have changed; a second snare lick, a minute change to the hats, a quiet guitar accent. Everything exists in development creating an upward trend in the listener’s enjoyment. This may sound like music making 101 but it is an important to note when cut-paste-repeat production is becoming the norm. Another element that they regularly employ is a bit corny but it works and when done with a bit of soul stops a track from grooving into omnipresent oblivion; the beat drop.
With Dub, where the beat stays reasonably static, there is a chance that impact of the drums will diminish through repetition. A well timed beat drop can create a jarring aural vacuum, and the audience awakes from their chalice haze to applaud wildly. SubMachena are a bit smarter than this and use neat fades to create a deeper sense of space by necessitating the audience listen harder to maintain the same level of music. Once the beat has become a whisper they jack it up making everyone go ‘whoa!’ As I said it’s a bit corny but Black Sun is worth listening to for the very elegant way Taylor-Firth and Bruce manage these changes in dynamic.
SubMachena is an exercise in form. The tropes of Dub reworked and reinvigorated here make for great listening and if the genre is a bit vanilla for some tastes it’s to be expected that they’ll be remixed harder shortly. However, the source material presented here is uniformly tight and in some places awesome. Recommended.